Growing up as the only Jewish girl my age in small-town Indiana, I have a lifetime of experience in being the odd-one-out when it comes to Christmas.

My family did not even have a so-called Hanukkah bush, though one family member loved Christmas music, especially Johnny Mathis’s album. Like other families at the time, we watched the Christmas movies on TV or at the theatre. But that was entertainment, not something we “believed” in.

When people who did not know I was Jewish asked me about my plans for Christmas, I felt flustered figuring out what to say to them. If I just said “We’re Jewish” that would usually end the conversation.  But people then were sometimes confused about Jewish people. I remember a classmate asking if she could feel the horns on my head, explaining that her mother’s hairdresser had told her that Jews have horns.

Later, as a University student in the late 1960s, I decided I didn’t want to be Jewish anymore. I began a quest for what I did want to be—what I really believed and wanted to be associated with. The story about how I discovered the Baha’i Faith (or some would say how it discovered me) is the subject of another essay for another time, perhaps. But in 1980 I decided to become a Baha’i. The irony? Once again I would be the odd-one-out.

Over the years though, the Baha’i teachings have shown me that the spirit of Christmas is indeed something to celebrate.  I now accept and revere Jesus Christ as God’s messenger for his day. Being a Baha’i has brought me closer to my Christian brothers and sisters around the world, since I recognize the essential unity of all religions and the unity of the divine messengers who brought these religions to humanity during their own time on earth.

The official website for the Baha’i Faith (www.bahai.org) offers this explanation:

Throughout history, God has sent to humanity a series of divine Educators—known as Manifestations of God—whose teachings have provided the basis for the advancement of civilization. These Manifestations have included Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad. Baha’u’llah, the latest of these Messengers, explained that the religions of the world come from the same Source and are in essence successive chapters of one religion from God.

When asked about how the teachings of Baha’u’llah contrasted with the teachings of Jesus Christ, Abdu’l-Baha offered this explanation:

The teachings are the same. It is the same foundation and the same temple. Truth is one, and without division. The teachings of Jesus are in a concentrated form. Men do not agree to this day as to the meaning of many of His sayings. His teachings are as a flower in the bud. Today, the bud is unfolding into flower! Baha’u’llah has expanded and fulfilled the teachings, and has applied them in detail to the whole world. – Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 92.

I admit, though, that I do get weary of the degree to which North America is saturated with Christmas. From the music in the malls to Santa Claus parades, it feels a little over-the-top. I wonder, sometimes, whether Christ would appreciate the materialism his birthday now engenders. On the other hand, I participate in gift exchanges at the workplace, join friends for dinner, act as a “secret Santa” for random acts of kindness days, and enjoy other personal events.

Now, when store clerks and others who do not know me ask if I am ready for Christmas, I simply tell them that I don’t specifically celebrate it myself—though as a Baha’i I honor the spirit of the season. Then I ask them what THEY are doing. They are excited to tell me about their family’s traditions, the size of their tree, who is visiting, how they exchange gifts, what they will be eating, and the special outings they are planning. I sincerely listen, share their enthusiasm, and truly wish them the blessings of the season.

I wish a Merry Christmas to YOU, too.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

26 Comments

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  • Jaellayna Palmer
    Jan 01, 2018
    Thank you!
  • Rasta Eve
    Dec 28, 2017
    Your article ia awesome
    • Jaellayna Palmer
      Dec 29, 2017
      Thanks for this comment. I am SO HAPPY that you enjoyed it.
  • Rose Kayani
    Dec 27, 2017
    Surely, you don't mean as a Baha'i we should celebrate Christmas too, are you? Because that is not advisable by our Beloved Guardian of the Faith! We have our own celebration of Nawruz, etc...
    • Jaellayna Palmer
      Dec 27, 2017
      Greetings Rose. You are right - I am not suggesting that. Thanks for asking.
  • Dec 26, 2017
    Hi Jaellayna - such a wonderful expression of goodwill in your article. Interested to hear your personal Baha'i story. But wonder if your comment "I decided I didn’t want to be Jewish anymore" implies a religious evolution or a turning from an identity devoid of religious significance (as many agnostic "Jewish" families face). Your religious heritage (with its remarkable contribution to the world) and your being "found" by the Faith (and many contributions to it) are two great blessings.
    • Jaellayna Palmer
      Dec 26, 2017
      Thanks Craig for raising such an interesting question. Reflecting back through the years now I would say it closer to your 2nd thought, i.e. a search for significance in religious practice combined with a search for personal identify.
  • Dec 25, 2017
    Hi, I am also a Baha'i who grew up Jewish. It was wonderful to have my perspective broadened by accepting the Faith in my youth, in 1970. I sometimes feel perplexed when responding to Christmas greetings.
    • Jaellayna Palmer
      Dec 26, 2017
      Thank you for this comment, David. It sounds like we have alot in common.
  • David Petrie
    Dec 25, 2017
    Wonderful piece!
    • Jaellayna Palmer
      Dec 26, 2017
      Thank you, David. I am glad you enjoyed it.
  • Aires Mario da Cruz
    Dec 25, 2017
    ENJOYED THIS ESSAY!!!
    • Jaellayna Palmer
      Dec 26, 2017
      Thank you, Aires. I am so happy to know your enthusiasm for this.
  • Christina Rasmussen
    Dec 30, 2016
    Thank you, I enjiy your articles very much !
    • Jaellayna Palmer
      Dec 31, 2016
      Thanks, Christina. I do appreciate your saying this.
  • Dec 29, 2016
    Thank you for this, Ms. Palmer. For a while I wrestled, as a (relatively new) Baha'i with what to say when people said "Merry Christmas" to me. Now I simply return their Christmas greetings and even say them first sometimes! Anyway, here's something I think you'll like, a Baha'i-oriented Christmas e-card I put together some years ago and send out to my Christian friends, post on Facebook and circulate among my fellow Baha'is here in Nanaimo, B.C., where my wife Louise and I now live: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMDSGtd6grw
    • Christina Rasmussen
      Dec 30, 2016
      What a trrrific idea !
    • Jaellayna Palmer
      Dec 29, 2016
      What a lovely card, Lewis. Thank you so much for your message and for providing the link.
  • Nancy Lee
    Dec 27, 2016
    Hello! Thank you for this article. It was lovely to read and find similarities as well as different insights from you. I also live in Ontario, and my aunt and uncle made their home in Plattsville, he being a veterinarian in the area until about 15 or more years ago. They were not Baha'is, I am the only one in that family.
    I look forward to reading the other articles I see that you have written
    Thanks again!
    Nancy Lee, Lindsay, ON
    • Jaellayna Palmer
      Dec 27, 2016
      Thanks for this comment, Nancy.
      Plattsville is just a few kilometers from Ayr, as you may know. So you can envision my part of the world today. (presently slushy-wet-cold)